We all know that burlesque and belly dance are linked… Since belly dance first entered the Western World’s imagination at the Chicago World Fair in the 1880s (you can read about the history of burlesque and belly dance at the Chicago World Fair here) burlesque dancers have been emulating and converting the moves for our own art form. We heavily use the undulations and taxsims, hip drops and shimmies for bump and grind and general choreography, we’ve stolen the bedlah (beaded bra and belt) as costume pieces and borrowed isis wings, veil fans and more as props… Now let’s explore why the belly dance veil is a totally brilliant piece of costuming!
Purchasing a couple of meters of sheer, silky or chiffon fabric is an easy and effective way to make a costume. Just like a sarong on the beach, there are numerous costume possibilites… You can wear put around the shoulders, with the ends arranged to cover front and back with a belt around the middle (like Fifi Fatale, pictured, from our 2011 Magical History Tour show, pic by Justin Haris), you can wear crossed over like a sarong and tied around the back of your neck (or with the ends tucked into the sides of your bra), or like a wrap-over skirt… The possibilites are endless. just a note on the fabric, you want it to be of the floaty kind so that when you turn it into your choreography (more of that in a bit), it will float around beautifully. Silks, rayons, georgettes, chiffons are great for this, but not organzas, etc as the fabric is too stiff. Also, you want to get fabric that is plain – ie doesn’t have any embellishments – embellishments such as beads or sequins, applique, or beaded edging will weigh down the fabric and it won’t look as beautiful when you use it in your choreography, plus it also has the potential to snag on other costume pieces. actual belly dance veils are great for this, and some are shaped, either as rectangles or semi circles.
Using a veil as choreography
When it comes to removing the veil as costume pieces, there are loads of moves you can do to really tease the audience! You can use it as a cover up, you can flash a leg through the opening – think hide and reveal! And then when you’ve taken off the veil, you can turn with it, letting the air catch it up and float, you can turn the veil and more. There are loads of brilliant tutorials on youtube aimed at belly dancers that show you a number of moves… We like the tutorials of Tiazza Rose, she’s a great teacher – you can see her choreography here and she also has a number of instructional videos too…
Just a note about the choreography with a veil… When using a prop, you mustn’t forget to move with it also! Sounds obvious but it’s surprisingly easy to forget to move and only move the prop! when using a veil, try and take the movements from the chest and shoulders, as well as the arms, when it’s open, remember you can shimmy, wiggle, undulate, and don’t forget to move your face!
The historic symbolism of the veil
Many of you will have heard of the dance of the seven veils… This is not strictly a traditional belly dance routine, but from Oscar Wilde’s variation of the biblical story of Salome, where Salome’s mother makes her dance for King Herod (her step father). The dance is actually a non-sexual dance, representing the shedding of outdated baggage, but over time, we have mis-interpreted its meaning, and in some dance works, the dance has been interpreted as a striptease, and popular fiction has described the dance of the seven veils as a wedding night dance, where the bride sheds each veil to represent each of the ‘seven lives’ before she is married, revealing her naked self to her new husband.
Historical and symbolically the veil represents the barrier between knowledge and wisdom. Dropping the veil represents getting past the barriers to access new knowledge. It also symbolises illusion – that what is barely seen under the veil might be an illusion, before it is made reality.
History of the veil in dance
The veil in belly dance has origins in both Egyptian (Oriental) belly dance and American belly dance. Famous Egyptian dancer Samya Gamal first made an entrance whilst carrying a piece of fabric on the stage in the 1930s and in the Egyptian belly dance style, a performer will often use the veil to make an entrance on the stage, performing their entrance piece with the veil with flowing, making an impact to a lively track before it is dropped and the show continues with drum solos and other styles. Belly dancers also perform the American style of veil work, where the veil is tucked into the belt or wrapped around the dancer, before it is removed as part of the choreography. In the burlesque heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, the veil played a prominent part, with performers using the symbolism of the sheer, diaphanous fabric drawing parallels with their skin and using it as a hide and reveal tool.
Confident with the veil? There’s other stunning moves you can do!
So you are already confident with the veil? Try using two veils! Two veils look stunning and, although they can be tricky to master (particularly ‘getting in and out’ of the double veils and getting used to which veil to drop so you are left with one in each hand – it’s all in the way you hold them!) they will make the audience gasp with delight…
Head over here for a stunning example of double veil work…